Commentary by Frank Schroth
Some town decisions get made and we don’t know why. Others get put off, and we don’t know why. And that “not knowing” inevitably leads to more questions.
For example, why did the Board of Selectmen ______________ Kevin Mearn, the Town Administrator?
Technically, the board voted not to renew his contract. That is being interpreted as fired, dismissed, removed from office etc. depending on whom you talk to. The TA serves at the pleasure of the board. He was on a one year contract and it is their prerogative not to renew it. They didn’t. Reasons given in various media outlets and comments during meetings included the inability to establish a professional relationship with one of the members of the board, poor communication with the Police Chief, and the need for a fresh start and new direction. When asked by a resident at their last meeting what the new direction was and why the current direction was bad, the two members who voted not to renew the contract, Bob Sweeney and Denis Keohane, declined to comment.
It was a severe and serious decision that will have significant consequences for the town. More than a one sentence explanation is warranted.
Mr. Mearn was engaged in a variety of issues. Two important ones are the wind turbine litigation and the shepherding of the Pulte P&S through the Attorney General’s office and then probate court. Mr. Sweeney opposed the choice of Pulte and Mr. Keohane raised questions about the deal during his campaign. What impact will this have if any on that?
There is likely to be a financial consequence to the town for not renewing Mr. Mearn’s contract. The motion made stated that there would be no severance or lump sum payment but that may be contested. Mr. Mearn offered to retire at end of 2013 and negotiated earlier than that if Selectmen desired. Did the financial impacts of these options factor into the Selectmen’s decision?
Whether Mr. Mearn was the right or wrong person for the job is not the half of it. Why the decision was made and how the decision was made are open questions that, lacking answers, raise anxiety and concern.
Our understanding is that all department heads are on 1 year contracts and they all expired at the end of June. It would only be natural for Town Hall staff to be feeling a little unsettled. What is being done to make them feel secure and ensure stability? Who is negotiating their contracts and what lessons learned from the recent decision will inform how they move forward? Did the selectmen consider the impact this decision would have on staff? Is it being addressed?
The Selectmen are meeting on Thursday. An agenda has not yet been posted but they are expected to take up the discussion of characteristics and qualities they want in a Town Administrator. We would hope for two items to be included: 1) why did they make the decision they did? A full explanation for such a drastic decision will go a long way to putting to bed the speculation that, absent such an explanation, occurs and the concomitant anxiety and doubt it raises. 2) A clear plan for recruiting and appointing the best possible administrator possible. One that includes input from department heads and other vested parties that can ensure that whatever deficiencies there were are addressed.
The Board of Selectmen is young and inexperienced. These are the individuals that the voters put their faith in. Their decisions will not always be popular and rarely easy to make; but they have their reasons. They should let the public know what they are.